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Fears raised over 'addictive' machines and casino culture

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Leicester's deputy mayor has raised concerns about "highly addictive" gaming machines in bookies.

Councillor Rory Palmer fears the "fixed odds betting terminals", which offer games like roulette and poker and are now common in bookmakers, are fuelling a rise in gambling.

He said research was needed to look in detail at the impact of gaming machines in Leicester and, if necessary, MPs should be lobbied to change the law to restrict them.

Coun Palmer said: "I want to be clear and say I am not against having a bet.

"However, the nature of betting shops is changing. They are not the bookies of a few years ago, where you would go in, study the form on the wall and then make an informed decision on how to place a bet.

"There are more fixed odds betting terminals and bookies are more like casinos.

"These things are highly addictive. They have been described as the crack cocaine of gambling.

"You see people at them hour after hour. They eat money."

According to figures from pressure group The Campaign for Fairer Gambling there were 220 such gaming machines in Leicester bookmakers in 2011-12 at which punters lost about £7.5 million.

Coun Palmer said there was a perception bookmakers were springing up in the city as other shops fall victim to the recession, increasing access to the machines.

The city council said there are 63 licensed betting shops in Leicester – nine more than were open five years ago.

Coun Palmer said: "They don't show a dramatic increase in the number of betting shops but we know there are more applications on the books."

Under current laws, betting shops are allowed up to four fixed odds betting terminals – with stakes ranging from £1 and prizes of up to £500.

Peter Craske, spokesman for the Association of British Bookmakers, said: "Gaming machines have definitely grown in popularity over the past 10 years, bringing in new customers and giving existing customers a new product to enjoy.

"This reflects the change in customer patterns, with customers wanting to bet on a lot more things than just horseracing or greyhounds – now people bet on football matches while they are taking place, or on who will win X-Factor or win the next General Election, and they also like to play on gaming machines.

"Like any retailer, we respond to our customers and give them the products they want.

"Leicester's betting shops employ more than 200 people, at a time when other major retailers are closing down, shedding jobs and leaving high street units empty."

Security guard Paul Grant, 32, from Rowlatts Hill, said he spent up two hours a week on gambling machines.

He said: "I lose more than I win. Everybody does. The machines wouldn't be there otherwise but I enjoy it.

"It's how I choose to spend my money and I don't think we need another politician saving us from ourselves."

Another regular player, who did not wish to be named, said: "I've lost £50 in a few minutes. It's different to betting over the counter where you have to look a person in the eye. It's just you and the screen and you can get so caught up in it."

Fears raised over 'addictive'  machines and casino culture


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